Idea between friends turns into business

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Published: March 23,2009

OCEAN SPRINGS — Theresa Poppell has been in retail for more than 20 years, “working for anybody and everybody.” Most recently, she worked for a home improvement center for nine years.

She worked as a salaried employee, sometimes putting in 60 to 70 hours per week. That got old, so she switched back to being an hourly employee. But, she found she dreaded getting up to go to work in the morning. The job got to be a real grind.

“I liked it in the beginning, but I got tired of the routine,” Poppell said. “When I got sick of the work and realized it wasn’t fun to go to work anymore, I decided I needed to do something for myself. I was working for someone else and not seeing the good out of it. I was just miserable going to work. The money was great, but money is not everything. I would rather be a little poorer and do my own business.”

Poppell and her husband are friends with the owners of a winery in Georgia. They suggested one day, ‘Why don’t you become our distributor in Mississippi?’ The idea for a business was born.

“I thought, ‘Why couldn’t I do that?’” Poppell said.

She checked into the laws in Mississippi with the idea of opening a store serving specialty wines from the winery in Georgia and others in the South. There was a lot of red tape to go through getting a license. But, she found the ideal location for the business, a 130-year-old home that had survived hurricanes Camille and Katrina on DeSoto Street in downtown Ocean Springs. She opened Jan. 31, and intends to hold the official grand opening March 31.

“My niche is concentrating on carrying specialty wines not being carried by other stores in the area,” Poppell said. “We carry specialty wines from Louisiana, Florida and Georgia. It is a niche, something different. We also carry other wines for people who aren’t interested in trying something new and want to drink the same thing day in and day out.”

The three Southern wineries she represents are: Boutier Winery, Danielsville, Ga.; Seabreeze Winery, Panama City Beach, Fla.; and, Pontchartrain Vineyard, Bush, La.

“My goal was try to keep to wines from the South,” she said. “We are trying to bring in wines unique to our area. I’m giving Southern people and the people here in the state money back into their pockets with what is going on in the economy.”

The outside of the business is painted purple, and the inside has been remodeled with Tuscan a scene and colors.

“It is not your cookie-cutter liquor store,” Poppell said. “We don’t sell hard liquor. It is homey with its own feel to it.”

One unique offering is personalized bottles. Boutier Winery has a mini-label on the back with the government-required information. The front of the bottle can be personalized with things such as photos or invitations for events — weddings, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, etc. After the wine has been consumed, there is a still a bottle to commemorate the event. She found this was particularly popular during the recent Mardi Gras activities.

Poppell and her husband were both in the military, and have lived in many different areas. They enjoy drinking wine, and have seen how popular wine-tasting rooms are in tourist areas such as Fairhope, Ala., and the Napa Valley in California. Poppell would like to offer something similar in Ocean Springs.

“Right now, the goal I’m working on is to break the mold and offer wine tasting in Ocean Springs,” she said. “People will have an opportunity to come in and try different wines. Tourists come in, and we talk extensively. But, they would like to try the wines before buying them because they have never tried them before.”

It is too early to tell how successful the business will be. But, it has already had a beneficial impact on Poppell’s attitude.

“Now at least when I get up and go to work in the morning, I enjoy doing what I do,” she said. “It is actually fun. I meet a lot of really nice people. If they have a lot of bags in their car, I know they are not from here. I ask them where they are from. In the military, we traveled everywhere. A lot of places where people are from, we have been there. It is fun to connect with people.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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